Our pattern is a person
Many of us have labored too long under the impression that our ultimate pattern to emulate is the new testament church, as derived by a rational analysis of the language of the new testament. This concept has some value in determining God's will, no doubt. But interpreting these patterns as our law to be bound upon others and ourselves has obscured our true pattern, which is a person. Our ultimate pattern is Jesus Christ himself. So how do we use Him as our pattern?
Titus 2:11 - For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
How does the grace of God, as embodied in Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross, teach us anything, or cause us to act in a godly manner? To understand that, it is helpful to look at the role of a man's leadership in his family. That will give us an idea of how Jesus himself led his disciples and how we are to submit to Him as our pattern:
Ephesians 5:22-24 - Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
I'm sure many husbands have read these verses and said, "That's right, I really need to lay down the law!" But they have missed the entire point. Did Jesus get his disciples to submit to his leadership by laying down the law and forcing them to submit? Or did he do it by humbly serving them to the point of death, causing them to want, out of their own free will, to submit to his leadership? That is the pattern for a husband's leadership, and that is the pattern for Jesus' leadership. Paul goes on:
Ephesians 5:25-29 - Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.
Jesus Christ loved us so much that He lived to serve us, his own creation. He sacrificed his own life for us. He did not die in order to institute a body of regulations and codes to teach his disciples how to live a godly life. "The grace of God that brings salvation" teaches us to live a godly life by setting an example of love so deep, so endearing, that we are drawn to respond in kind to it once we come to believe it. We are not fenced into it by a set of laws.
Jesus Christ was a servant-leader--he led by showing an example of humility, honesty, sincerity, and above all, love for those he wanted to follow him. That is the how the grace of God draws us to Jesus Christ. That is how we can be without a code of regulations, but with an inspired book of encouragement to live a godly life. And that is the way our pattern is a person.
But in trying to follow our Pattern, how do we know what sin is? The new testament scriptures do not contain all definitions of it. What is sin for one person, because of his conscience, may not be sin to another. Neither do the scriptures contain all the definitions of what it means to be godly. There are an infinite number of ways to sin, just as there are an infinite number of ways to pattern our lives after the one and only true pattern that we have, Jesus Christ himself. Christianity maintains its relevance for every stage of human maturity because we should constantly be searching to discover new ways to serve Him.
But He has not left us without law altogether. There is a law, and there is a commandment for all believers. John writes:
John 14:15 - "If you love Me, keep My commandments."
What is that commandment?
Mark 12:30-31 - And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Jesus spoke the following:
John 13:34 - A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
Many years later, John wrote this:
1 John 2:7 - Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning.
1 John 3:11 - For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
1 John 3:23 - And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
It is clear that Jesus is a lawgiver, and that he did bring us a law. But it is the law of faith in Him and love for our brothers. That is the ultimate pattern that He laid down for us when He lived on this earth. The hope that we have in Jesus Christ does not compel us; it impels us to live a godly life. John writes in 1 John 3:3 that "everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."
"We shall be like Him" in the resurrection, he says, and because of this hope, we strive to purify ourselves, just as He is pure. That, brothers, is what it means to make our Pattern a person. If we have been raised with him in the likeness of His death, let us also be like him in our life.
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